Everything Is Already Something Week 47: Method To The Madness, Putting Together A Holiday Sketch Show

Allison Page gets into the Christmas spirit.

“We have too much Santa!”

“There isn’t enough Hanukkah!”

“Nothing about Boxing Day? Where’s all the love for Boxing Day?”

In the middle of writers meetings for a holiday themed sketch comedy show, lots of stuff is shouted out, lots of things are written, and a whole big gaggle of factors come into play before the final lineup is chosen. Last night, Killing My Lobster had its final writers meeting for KMLZ Holidaze, a gigantic variety show we do as a collaboration with Z Space. There’s music, burlesque, drag, Santas whose laps you can sit on if you dare – and about 50 minutes worth of sketch comedy. It’s a condensed process that goes very quickly. All the writing is done in two weeks, and anyone in the show can submit anything, it’s not just limited to the writers. It can get crazy. But it’s always a hell of a great time.

We’ve done this before, and some patterns have definitely emerged. Here are some things you can count on:

First Meeting: All The Santa
Oh my god, so much Santa. The end of the first writers meeting always concludes with “Okay, guys, we’re done with Santa. We don’t need any more. THE POSITION HAS BEEN FILLED. MOVE ALONG. NOTHIN’ TO SEE HERE.” Which is partially because everyone KNOWS that they can’t get them in after the first meeting, so if they have a Santa idea, it better come runnin’ in at that first meeting. And eventually decisions have to be made about which Santa sketches can live, and which must die. No matter how good they are, there can only be a couple of them before the audience is like “Soooo, this is just a Santa thing now, errrr?” It’s like a Christmas Thunderdome…sorta.

The Deep Dark Abyss
Man, we are some dark minded humans. The doom and the gloom came out the first night, as well as the Santa stuff – sometimes in the same sketch. It’s easy, with comedy, to go for the negative. Often that’s an okay path. But with sketch, if you do that the entire time, it’ll be the darkest, most upsetting evening of entertainment you can have. Maybe that impulse is aided by the fact that the holidays often bring out the worst in us, even if just for a moment. You’re surrounded by your family. They’re asking you questions about your job (or lack of job), your personal life (WHEN ARE YOU GONNA HAVE KIDS, PATTY?!?!), your fashion choices, your dietary choices – just about everything. My grandpa used to make fun of me for wearing red nail polish. Like…what? That’s not even interesting. Then there’s the hypocrisy of the meaning people may or may not assign to the holidays, combined with the commercialism that tends to overpower that stuff. There’s a lot to be Scrooged about. That stuff needs to be tempered with some positivity so the audience doesn’t run out into traffic and throw themselves into the street. Last year I submitted a sketch I wrote about a boy who meets two snowflakes who proceed to tell him that they’re not special, neither is he, he’ll probably just be a barista until he dies, and he might as well start taking anti-depressants now. When the boy says “But I’m not depressed!” the snowflakes respond with “Don’t worry – you will be!” Uh, it didn’t get in.

Songs, Songs, Lots Of Songs
Anybody can rewrite a Christmas carol to make it about global warming, three-ways, snack foods, or your spouse cheating on you. I’m saying anybody, because a ton of people do that. (Me included…today I mourn the rejection of “The Office Non-Denominational Holiday Party” which was set to the tune of White Christmas”, but seriously it was pretty stupid.) Original songs tend to go over better, but that takes a lot more work, obviously. This year there’s a great rap song that’s a play on The Night Before Christmas, which I think is a total show-stopper (written by Ken Grobe, who has a history of writing awesome songs like “Acid-Face Hanley’s Christmas” and “Luwanda Buckley and The Sex Robot”…or something like that. It was definitely about a sex robot and a country singer.)

Acid-Face Hanley sings to the kids, KMLZ 2011

Acid-Face Hanley sings to the kids, KMLZ 2011

We can’t fill a whole show with covers of carols. I mean, we could, but I feel like a few audience members would start to lose their minds and develop a serious bloodlust, causing mass chaos and zombification.

Feedback and Rewrites
The cool thing about KMLZ is that there are tons of people involved. Which also means that when a sketch is read out loud around the table, everyone has an opinion. Sometimes the opinions are all “THAT WAS HILARIOUS!”. Sometimes it’s clear there’s a problem with the sketch and 12 different opinions about what the problem might be, or how you could fix it if you rewrote it this way or that way. Everybody says their piece, and then the writer is left to decide what to do. They edit it in whatever way, and bring it back after the rewrite to see if it’s better. Sometimes it’s fixed and awesome. Sometimes it’s on the right track but not totally there. And sometimes it’s worse because possibly the premise wasn’t strong enough or clear enough from the beginning. It happens to everybody. (I’ll miss you, “Infinity Scarves For Infinity”, I just couldn’t make you happen.)

The Resubmission Shuffle
Sometimes a sketch doesn’t get into a show, and the writer loves it, and brings it back. Sometimes multiple times because it just keeps not being chosen. Sometimes that means shoehorning it into a new category. In the instance of this year, there’s a sketch that doesn’t really have anything to do with the holidays, but the opening line was changed to include “…at tonight’s Hanukkah party I am going to tell Morgan I’m divorcing her!” The rest of the sketch could not have less to do with the holidays, but is super funny, and has now finally made it into rehearsal. (I want to say this sketch is maybe two years old and that this is the first time it’s made it into rehearsal. It’s called “Slapping And Drinking” and was written by The Bardi Twins.)

It's hard to answer the phone in a snowsuit when you have weird low tables.

It’s hard to answer the phone in a snowsuit when you have weird low tables.

It’s in! Oh…It’s Out.
So your sketch made it into rehearsal! Congratulations! Wow, you really beat the odds! 13 writers and your sketch survived, that’s a hell of a thing! But that doesn’t mean it’s going to actually be onstage. About 40 sketches were submitted in two weeks. We’re going into rehearsal with about 18 of them, knowing we can’t fit them all in. In the end, I suspect it’ll be 13-15ish. It’s even possible that something will get all the way to tech and be cut. That always burns a little. So close, and yet so far. Ya can’t win ‘em all. But fear not, friend. If your dog is worth a damn, it’ll have its day…um, maybe. Hopefully. Them’s the breaks. But that’s also the exciting thing about doing this – stuff changes really quickly and you’re flying by the seat of your pants with a bunch of other people who are doing the same. There are a lot of flying pants going on.

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You can see KMLZ: Holidaze at Z Space December 12th at 8pm, and December 13th at 7pm and 10pm.

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2 comments on “Everything Is Already Something Week 47: Method To The Madness, Putting Together A Holiday Sketch Show

  1. Gina says:

    Christmas Thunderdome would have been a great sketch! Master Blaster as Santa?!

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